Is Cantha enough draw for Guild Wars 2?

Amid that whole Blizzard mess of last week was the full reveal of Guild Wars 2’s third expansion, End of Dragons. One can only hope that this will, indeed, be an end of the dragons, because that’s something that this MMO has run into the ground and sorely needs to move past.

Overall, it was a good reveal. Guild Wars 2 has had a very rough couple of years, but now it feels like it’s emerging with solid visible leadership, a big product for people to get excited about, and hope for the future. It’s one of those games that fell from glory a while back and needed a win. It’s too early to say if Cantha will be that win, but at least this is a nice boost of publicity and community excitement.

And good for Guild Wars 2, you know? I’ve had my ups and downs with this game, but I’ve never been at a point where I didn’t want it to win. There are many great features and designs, and it’s an easy game to return to. I’m sure this press reveal is stirring a lot of returns right now, because there’s nothing like an MMO coming alive again with a promise of big future stuff to call back the faithful.

As for the expansion reveal itself, I guess I’m a “5” out of a 1 to 10 scale. Right squat in the middle. To be honest, Cantha itself has never been a huge draw for me, both in the original Guild Wars or here. I know it has this rabid cult following, but I’m not part of that.

I was hoping that we’d get some news about some really exciting features — housing, for instance, no pun intended — but this reveal stopped short of dangling something that made me say, “Now I’ve GOT to play it!” There’s some new mount types, ok. Fishing? Yeah, that’s so underwhelming a feature that the only time I see someone hyping it up is a developer who needs another bullet point for a feature list. Some more story, some new elite specs, a whole lot of “more of the same.”

That’s not necessarily bad. Guild Wars 2 needed more ANYthing at this point, and this looks to be a full package. The skiffs — player boats? — is the most interesting-sounding of all of the features.

I’m looking at this expansion and feeling the equal pulls of apathy toward GW2 and the usual FOMO of a community rushing toward the bright new shiny. But it’s going to be warring with a lot of releases and launches for the rest of 2021 — and End of Dragons’ 2022 date is far past that. Perhaps it’ll be a revisit later this year or early next year to see if the Guild Wars 2 bug might bite again, but that’s a big “perhaps” with me.

How Elder Scrolls Online and Guild Wars 2 share the same great feature

One of the absolute best design elements that went into Guild Wars 2 was in creating its maps and how players would interact with zones. Choosing to ditch the hub-quest model, GW2 elected to create zones with all sorts of icons to encourage exploration and interaction. Filling out a GW2 map is deeply satisfying by finishing up all of the hearts, points of interest, vistas, and the like. I appreciated that it allowed me to set my own course and follow my curiosity rather than a rigid path.

While Elder Scrolls Online isn’t exactly the same, the two MMOs share a lot of similarities in their zone designs. ESO also has quests, POIs, mini-dungeons, sky shards, and waystones all over the place, and the player is pretty free to meander in whatever fashion is thought best.

The newish (well, not so new now) zone finder screen is a big help in giving players checklists and starting points for all of the optional activities. If I want to spend the day sky shard hunting or making sure I’ve done every last quest line, this screen gives me a visual indicator as to my progress (and some clues as well).

My Glenumbra meanderings are about at an end. I really am setting no speed records for completing zones, but I’m having a very good time even so. One of the last things I did was to go back and wrap up dungeon delves, which I had neglected originally. Each of these are small public dungeons with a boss tucked somewhere inside, and it’s a nice solo option to jump into one and check off that tickbox without a huge time investment.

It just makes every zone that I haven’t done feel like it’s a gift box that I get to unwrap and enjoy a bit at a time. Hm. Maybe a better analogy is a box of chocolates, savoring one bite of content at a time. Whatever, it’s lunch, and I’m hungry.

And hey, I’m level 50! My very first in Elder Scrolls Online, so Champion Point grind, here I come!

Guild Wars 2: Cheerful necromancy

If there’s one overriding directive when it comes to how I’m approaching Guild Wars 2 this time around, it’s to keep things casual and carefree. I’m not pushing myself hard toward any huge goals, I’m simply enjoying the pursuit of smaller goals in whatever fashion I please.

And it pleased me to switch classes up the other day from the Engineer back to my Necro, Yeti Yesterday. Her namesake started out in the original Guild Wars, and I’m happy to have her present for the sequel as well. While the Engineer was fine, I was craving a mob of pets, and it was either this or the (still unplayed by me) Elementalist. Plus, I love Yeti Yesterday’s look and build. It’s really relaxing to just throw down marks and watch pets swarm all over the bad guys. Kind of feels a little unfair to them, but hey, I need the loot.

The only downside to switching over to her is that she had less accomplished. I spent a few days finishing up her personal storyline and then began to hack away at the end of season 2. As she now has the mounts that I’ve unlocked from Path of Fire, I’m not as much in a rush to return to that expansion, but I suppose I should to rank up those beasts.

But for the most part, I like to log in and just clear out map after map. With the mounts, it’s a lot less problematic than it used to be, and I keep rediscovering over and over how photogenic this game is. Seriously, it’s hard NOT to take ridiculously attractive pictures. I liked this above shot of a statue looming above the Norn city while the snow falls around it.

I also took a brief holiday into the Super Adventure Box hub, although that was mostly out of curiosity than a desire to play it. I’m horrible at jumping puzzles and platforming, so SAB isn’t really my thing, but I love the theming. And check out the critter parade! That made my day to witness it.

Guild Wars 2: Hopping to victory

What I’m appreciating about Guild Wars 2 these days is that it’s a perfect game to play when you don’t want to think — you just want to wander and experience. You don’t have to pay much attention to quests while doing stuff in the world, and even when you are in missions, the story is most definitely forgettable. Something something dragons and angry gods and people calling me “Commander” because they can’t be bothered to learn my first name.

Instead of fussing about storylines, most of my play sessions involve logging in and seeing where my interest and attention takes me. Loosely, I’m working on unlocking my mount masteries and clearing through zones (I finished Crystal Oasis and have been hacking away at Desert Highlands). There’s always a mini-goal to work toward, whether it’s the next map point or a heart or an event or a mastery point or what have you. While I’m doing this, I’m getting a feel for how my raptor and bunny handle.

I do kind of wish that Guild Wars 2 would have rolled all of these mount abilities into one mount, rather than a bunch of different ones, because it is annoying as all get out to have to switch between them for specific situations. It’s awkward, unlike the elegant double-tap of the spacebar for gliding (which I kind of consider my third mount). While I’m not that keen on platforming as a whole, getting these movement-related abilities reminds me pleasantly of old days playing Metroid and other similar games that gradually boosted your abilities that in turn opened up the map even further.

A lot of nights, I’m trying to figure out the puzzle of how to get to a various point. Sometimes I can’t, because it requires a certain mastery that I don’t have yet. Grinding these masteries is slow and not at all fun, but I get that they’re there to keep you occupied in these maps for longer than you would’ve done otherwise. Unlike the old world maps, where everything was expected to be done on foot (and mounts are a bonus), these newer maps may have points completely inaccessible until you get a particular mastery. That bugs me, but it’s a small issue and not that distracting from my average adventures.

I am pleased to see how many people still engage in the dynamic event system. I think this shows the strengths of Guild Wars 2’s overall design, that these features are synergetic with each other and encourage participation because they’re still relevant and helpful in some way. Events keep rewarding currency, mastery experience, and items that people want, even when they’ve cleared out the maps, and so groups still migrate to these. They’re so much more enjoyable with others, so I don’t mind taking detours to get into them.

At the very least, I know that an event will pay out in some items that I can hopefully convert to cold, hard cash. I’m currently saving up for my next batch of gems to unlock the few episodes of the living story that I need, so any and all money is welcome. Every week, I’ll take an evening to head over to a trading post, empty my bank of mats, and put stuff up for sale. Seeing the gold flow in is quite satisfying.

In the meantime, it’s back to map exploration. As always, Guild Wars 2 is pure eye candy, and I’m never lacking in opportunities to take amazing screenshots. At least Path of Fire isn’t all desert dunes!

Guild Wars 2: Going ‘all in’ on an MMO

When I engage in an MMO, it tends to be in one of three ways. It could be a one-shot, trying-out-of-curiosity sample tasting. Just giving it a go to see what it is, perhaps so that I can say that I went into it at least once in my life. It could also be what I think of as “dabbling,” where I log in to scratch an itch or play extremely infrequently and casually.

And then there’s the third category, where I go “all in” on a game. Sometimes we think of this as finding an MMO home or getting addicted to it or any other of a number of expressions where we mean that we’re really settling into a game for the long haul. For me, this means setting goals, wanting to get through all of the content, finding a guild, and playing at least an hour a day in it. This is what I’m always looking for, because MMOs are the most enjoyable for me when I’m invested in long stretches of time rather than sporadically. That is, I guess, where I’m finding myself with Guild Wars 2.

I’m a bit surprised, to be honest. I haven’t been that invested in this game for a long while now, and earlier this year I even grumped about how I’m not happy with the direction that ArenaNet took it. My stance on that hasn’t changed, but I guess there’s still some enjoyment yet to be had. From logging in to fool around with mapping to getting involved with an adults-only guild to buying Path of Fire, I’ve progressed pretty rapidly from dabbling to devoting in the past couple of weeks.

Speaking of Path of Fire, I’m quite happy that I picked up this expansion. Not only is it a lot more engaging and better-looking than I anticipated — I’m not generally a fan of desert zones, nor was I that crazy about Guild Wars Nightfall — but the mounts are the real deal rather than a gimmick. At least the first one, the raptor, felt very natural, handled great, and had a neat jumping-forward mechanic that proved useful. The cynical part of me knows that the many types of mounts was to drive up sales and increase the mastery grind, but the joy-loving part of me is happy to have a variety that’s more functional than cosmetic.

I’m waiting to see how crazy it’ll be try to whip out certain mounts for certain situations, but already I’m glad to have them. The idea is to leap-frog over world mapping and other living world seasons to concentrate on PoF for the time being to get these mounts in order to make the rest of the unconquered content easier to handle.

I even did a dungeon with my guild the other day, more to be social than anything else. I’m not trying to craft, but rather I’m selling all the stuff I keep collecting to get gold. I kind of need it, since I have three living world episodes (from the fourth season, I think) that I didn’t get back when they were free, so I need the gems to buy those. I’m also planning on getting some Super Adventure Box time in this month for those lovely, lovely skins.

Guild Wars 2: The aerodynamics of spinny cubes

If I haven’t made it clear enough, I love having goals. Setting goals, working toward goals, and achieving goals is the engine that sends me into action in all aspects of my life. I’m not always super-successful in what I do, but I find more satisfaction in having the guidance that goals provide than just aimlessly doing whatever.

And that definitely applies to gaming. I see in myself a marked difference in gaming without any goals and having ones that I’m working toward. There are goals that the game sets for me and those I choose for myself, however, and I like a bit of both.

Guild Wars 2 strikes me as a game that leans more toward the latter type of goal-setting. You can go through the story content or not. You can map zones or not. You can chase legendaries or not. You can play fashion guru, go raiding, join in with guild missions, and head off to Reddit to be grumpy. Lots of options there. I’m finding the most enjoyment in day-to-day establishment of short-term goals, such as “finish one living world chapter” or “completely explore this zone,” and then going after it until it’s done. It’s not so huge as to take me months, just one or two play sessions.

One goal that I set for myself was to upgrade my glider skin from the default one that looks like a bunch of dirty toilet paper stitched together. I swear, ArenaNet made that thing ugly on purpose so we’d be fleeing toward the cash shop to buy better-looking ones. Smart business model. The only thing was, our family is pinching pennies right now, so I’m not spending money on games.

The only other option, then, was to make enough money to buy gems to buy cash shop stuff. That was doable. I sat down and emptied out my bank of various materials and ran an “everything must go!” fire sale. Within a half-hour, I had enough gold to get the skin that I wanted, and now I’m flying with the power of spinny cubes. Don’t ask me how that works, it just does. Thanks, goals!

Guild Wars 2: Dinking around without a purpose

Don’t mind my rampant jumping around between MMORPGs these days, I’m obviously going through something and these games are my therapy. It’s not so much a restlessness as a desire to explore my old roster of favorites and see if any of them are ready for my interest. Neverwinter, then WoW Classic, and now… Guild Wars 2.

I’ve been routinely logging into GW2 every night for months now to grab free goodies, but I hadn’t moved from the same spot where I had started Heart of Thorns and hadn’t gotten too far into it. But the other night, I decided what the heck, I’d at least grind out my basic glider mastery — yeah, I’m *that* far behind the pack.

Once I got the glider, I started to have a lot of fun with it. Sure, you can’t fly up, but it really changes how you interact with the world by being able to glide short and long distances. I’m finding that the glider has a lot of functionality. I can use it as a parachute to do a long drop safely, I can hop between rooftops, I can get to vistas with ease if I have a higher vantage point from which to begin, and I can simply have fun jumping off and soaring over the land. It’s not quite WildStar’s double-jump, but it’s so good that I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to get it.

Between the glider and reconnecting with my old characters, I decided that I might as well go all-in on Guild Wars 2 — at least for the time being. Having another expansion in the works at least has the psychological effect of feeling more secure in the game’s future, which is not something anyone could say over the past year.

I flip-flopped for a while between my Necromancer and Engineer, but ultimately went with my Engie for flamethrowers, turrets, and aesthetics. I was thinking about the elite specializations that are out there, and sure, I might try them at some point, but I pretty much have the kind of character build I want. Flipping between dual pistols and flamethrower offers me enough variety for combat, especially when I have elixirs and turrets and toolbelt skills to throw into the mix.

So what now? It’s that period of getting reacquainted with a title, figuring out where you were last, how your rotation works, if any of the patches changed anything that you now have to learn, finding a new guild, and so on. I’m trying to wrap my head around what I’d want my goals to be in the game. I’m never going the route of legendary weapons (maybe ascended? I don’t know), and my character’s gear and build are pretty set. I guess what’s left is the story missions and expansions, mastery tracks, making money, getting more cosmetics, and generally dinking around.

At least the play sessions so far are very relaxing. I’ve been world mapping, and I have tons of missions to do when I want to change up my focus. For now, it’s all about messing with the glider as I explore and uncover.

Cantha? Can-do, Guild Wars 2!

Years and years ago at PAX, I was covering a Guild Wars 2 event and I got to watch Colin Johanson tackle a succession of interviews. Pretty much every reporter asked him the same popular fan question of, “So, what about Cantha?” To which, Colin would visibly die a little more and give an evasive answer.

Hopefully, he survived, because finally nobody’s going to be asking that question any more.

Personally, I don’t get why Cantha was really all that in Guild Wars 1, but fans really, really seemed attached to the setting and have wanted the sequel to feature it since GW2 launched. Now it looks as if they’ll get their wish, as ArenaNet announced yesterday that it broke ground on a third expansion and teased the above picture to strongly hint that, yes, it’s Cantha-time. Beyond that, no details, no timeline, nothing. Just “please keep playing our game for right now and we’ll try to get an expansion to you… sometime. Just don’t go away.”

The response among my Guild Wars 2 friends has been extreme high levels of joy. I’m kind of Ben Wyatt from Parks & Rec who doesn’t get why the whole town is nuts about a small horse, but I’m glad that they’re glad. And they ARE glad. Like, jumping-up-and-down-squealing-like-an-F1-racer-burning-out-the-gate glad.

Setting aside, I definitely approve that Guild Wars 2 is committing to a third expansion. This weird “saga” stuff isn’t really lighting up fan enthusiasm and the game’s been languishing ever since last year’s layoffs and project reduction. Expansions are proven excitement machines, something for the playerbase to rally around. I wouldn’t be surprised if Guild Wars 2 saw its population spike up significantly this weekend due to that teaser image alone. Heck, I’m a bit tempted to play, maybe because it’s been stirring in my mind this winter.

But I guarantee you that even if you’ve never played the game, you have more than enough time to go through all of its content and expansions before this expansion releases. From the sound of it, Cantha is a long ways out — probably 2021, and maybe late 2021 at that. This is just a notice to say that ArenaNet is working on it, not that it has anything more than a single piece of concept art to show for it.

Missing the Guild Wars 2 that was, not is

While I never talk about it, every evening I do log into Guild Wars 2. This is part of a quick rotation of games that I currently play or might play again that I do in order to grab daily rewards. Plus, logging in to GW2 unlocks the living world chapters when they come. So it’s kind of hedging on a possible gaming future.

Yet I’m just not sure that I want to play Guild Wars 2… maybe ever again. I wish that was not the case. The core game? I love the core game. I think ArenaNet was at the top of its game with the release of Guild Wars 2 and the way it crafted a world that was fun to explore and engage with public events. In a different universe, I could see development skewing more to feeding us casual-friendly players — particularly with the addition of proper housing.

That’s not the way Guild Wars 2 went. Instead, we got grindy masteries and fractals and — I still don’t know why — raids. Mounts seemed cool, but the game seemed like it drifted far away from what I used to know and love about it.

The other week, ArenaNet actually broke its silence to talk with its fans about the content coming for the game. Obviously, after last year’s studio gutting, Guild Wars 2 isn’t on fire as it once was. Even so, I’d hoped to see something really encouraging from what the remaining team had been up to. Instead… more fractals. More raids. More of stuff that isn’t that appealing and doesn’t call out to me to come back.

It would be much easier to hate on a game and denounce it once and for all. But I think MMO gamers know that special agony of loving a game as it used to be, not as it is at the present. Sometimes change is not for the better at all.

But hey, who knows. Maybe I’ll give GW2 some more time off and revisit it then and enjoy what I can. Maybe I’ll get through all of the living world stuff and expansions I have yet to do. And maybe, just maybe, Guild Wars 3 will emerge one day. For now, however, I’ll log in, grab my goodie bag, and log off without feeling a second of compulsion to actually play.

A tale of two amazing MMO character creators

Let me ask you a question: When is the last time that you created a new character in an MMO and felt, by the end of the character creation process, that you had a firm grasp on who that character was beyond superficial looks and combat prowess? Almost never, right?

If you have ever played a good pen-and-paper RPG, that is certainly not the case when you whip up a new character. You know a name, a backstory, a list of feats and weaknesses, native languages, personalities, and the like. It’s part of playing the role of that character, that you need more than just hit points, bust size, and damage output to partake in the game. When I was a kid, I always loved pouring over PnP RPG manuals to dream up an army of characters, each with their own unique place in the world.

Some single-player CRPGs still carry forth this legacy. Some actually give a damn about making an involved character creator process that gives the players lots of options and ways to customize a character so that, from the first minute of the game onward, he or she has a good grasp on who that character is.

MMOs? MMOs have largely given up on this. Character creation is boiled down to “pick a faction, pick a class, pick a race, pick a look.” We might laud them for having MANY classes or SEVERAL look options, but there isn’t a lot of width there.

Yet I can point to two strong examples of very different fantasy MMOs that nevertheless put a premium on establishing deep characters inside the creator itself rather than hours later in the game. The first would be Guild Wars 2, which astounds me today as it did nearly a decade ago with a 10-step (!) process to make characters.

Sure, some of those steps are pretty standard — look, class, race — but others help establish the outline of a backstory and seed future narrative events in the first part of the game. You pick choices that illustrate the personality and history of your character, such as the god you worship or your greatest ambition. You even select your character’s predominant personality trait, such as charm or deceit. These choices are often limited, but they’re immersive and often have some impact in the game down the road. I’ve always loved it, and by step 10, I feel like I am far more connected to my character than I am in other games.

The other game I want to praise is perhaps less-known, especially for this feature, but no less robust. Villagers and Heroes bowled me over the first time I went through its character creator. It’s apparent that a lot of love went into this part of the game, as the choices you make are not only written up as a multi-paragraph biography, but a narrator asks you questions and talks about your picks.

You can choose things such as your place of origin and pick a starting gear set. Not only do you select your combat role but also your village role — what gathering or crafting skills you have and what house you want. A game that gives me a house out of the gate? Get out of here!
I feel that the character creator is a lost art in MMORPGs. I don’t just want to pour over what I look like, I want to agonize over choices of who my character is and what motivates them. I want the game to recognize and respond to that. Maybe it’s a silly thing to champion, but it matters to me.